Mike Vick was supposed to have become the Michael Jordan of the NFL by now. Instead, he is facing the end of his lucrative career as both a football player and a post-career spokesman all because he apparently enjoys watching dogs fight. Still, it’s kind of unfair that Mike Vick could potentially go to jail as well as abruptly lose his career for holding dog fights at his house while Roy Jones, Jr. still makes tons of money as a boxer despite buying a Louisiana cockfighting arena and sponsoring chicken fights.
Let me come clean about something first: I was once part of the technical team that did a documentary on Roy Jones, Jr. Over the course of the day I got to hear Roy talking personally with others and I even spent about a good ten to twenty minutes alone with the boxer in the kitchen of his training headquarters eating spicy Popeye’s Chicken and having a very pleasant conversation with him. I can speak of nothing personal about Roy Jones, Jr. other than that one day I was in his presence, but I walked away late that night feeling good about the man. I don’t approve of cockfighting any more than I do dog fighting and I certainly wouldn’t want to see Jones jailed or have his career ended as a result of it. But I can’t help but feel there is a big difference in the way these two sports stars have been treated.
Dog fighting has a long history in America with an equally long history of producing significant gambling revenue that mostly eluded the national coffers. Such was the popularity among gamblers for dogfights that the occasional “championship tournament” could produce as much interest as an actual human boxing match. In the 1800s you could go into any state in any region of the union and find organized dog fighting. It has been estimated that untold thousands of canines met their brutal ends as a result of this “sport.” Quite naturally the unsavory activity produced illegal offshoots. For instance, dog theft was an massive problem during the 19th century because the demand for dogs that could hold their own in these fights was enormous. It wasn’t just American dogs who were being turned into four-legged pugilists, however. Most of the prized dog fighting breeds were native to England and as a result the importation of these dogs either for fighting or breeding became a cottage industry.
As bad as the scene at Mike Vick’s house may have been, it was nothing compared to the dogfights of the 19th century. One particularly atrocious derivative of the general type of dogfight involved the use of rats, usually from a city’s port. These rats would be caught and caged and starved until they were literally ravenous. At that point the rats would be placed into the arena and the dog would be expected to fend off the rodent’s bloodthirsty need to feed. These fighting dogs more often than not came out the victor, but every once in a while the tide turned and the crowd would cheerfully exalt at the site of a dog being bitten to death by the rats.
If you happen to be one of those people who think that boxing should be outlawed because it is barbaric and appeals to the basest instincts of human nature you should be aware that it was the rise to prominence of boxing in America that ended the popularity of dog fighting. In the late 1800s human fights were just as illegal as dogfights. The legalization of boxing matches served to increase their popularity, and boxers of the human type were far easier for gangsters to convince to take a dive than Boxers of the canine type. Boxing may not be truly be the sweet science, but it’s much sweeter than dog fighting.